HALIFAX — A Halifax medical student has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Taylor Samson.
William Sandeson was charged two years ago in the slaying of Samson, a fellow Dalhousie University student whose body has never been found.
The jury deliberated for a total of 22 hours before returning to the Nova Scotia Supreme Courtroom to render its verdict.
There were tears and cheers from members of Samson's family after the decision was announced. Sandeson remained stonefaced as the jury of six men and six women was polled to affirm their agreement with the verdict.
"Turn around and take a bow, Billy," Samson's mother, Linda Boutilier, yelled as Sandeson was escorted out of the courtroom.
"Tell us where he is," another voice shouted from the gallery.
The trial heard Samson went to Sandeson's apartment on Aug. 15, 2015, to sell him nine kilograms of marijuana for $40,000.
Court heard Samson was last seen alive on video walking into Sandeson's apartment shortly before 10:30 p.m.
After the verdict, Boutilier told reporters that she would sleep soundly for the first time since her son went missing 22 months ago.
"I thank the good lord that the truth has finally come out," Taylor's grandmother Elizabeth Samson said, her voice quivering with emotion. "I do feel sorry for his (Sandeson's) family that they brought up a man like him. I would be heartbroken."
First-degree murder convictions carry an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. A formal sentencing hearing has been set for July 11, when victim impact statements will be presented.
Outside court, defence lawyer Eugene Tan said Sandeson wouldn't say whether his client plans to appeal the verdict.
In her closing arguments, Crown attorney Kim McOnie suggested Sandeson lured Samson to his apartment and shot him in the back of the head at his kitchen table during the drug deal as part of a scheme to alleviate his debt.
McOnie had argued Sandeson — who was slated to start medical school at Dalhousie within a week of his arrest — was motivated by money, noting he was in debt and that police only recovered roughly $7,200 cash.
The trial heard Sandeson was under pressure from his parents about his spending in the weeks before Samson was killed. Sandeson owed more than $70,000 on a $200,000 line of credit.
McOnie suggested Sandeson never intended to buy the drugs that night — he planned to steal them.
"Taylor Samson had no clue what he was walking into," said McOnie, asking the jury to find Sandeson guilty of first-degree murder.
DNA matching Samson's was recovered from a bullet, gun, duffel bag and other items seized from Sandeson's Henry Street apartment in Halifax and his family's farm in Truro, the jury heard.
Tan said in his closing arguments that Sandeson is not a "criminal mastermind" and that the Crown twisted evidence in the case to fit its theory.
He had conceded there was a "violent incident" at the apartment that night, but said Sandeson maintains there was a third party at the apartment.
Tan had asked the jury to acquit Sandeson.
Aly Thomson and Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press